For an observer from the early part of the century with its reliance on petrochemicals, it may come as a surprise that that only a few decades later the oil industry has largely withered away, with only a few industrial processes continuing to use oil and its byproducts. For energy generation fusion has become Earth’s principal power generation technique. The principal source of fuel for this, is the harvesting industry that has been constructed around Saturn.
With Helium-3 concentration in Saturn’s atmosphere at about 10 parts per million, fuel can be harvested from the planet’s upper atmosphere by dedicated atmospheric skimmers. The cargo of these vessels is then transported to the refineries that orbit the planet, which separate out the useful elements. While some of these such as the Kyŏn Three platform pictured above, are government owned, the majority are owned by publicly listed corporations – many of which were businesses that converted from being oil companies.
Once purified the Helium-3 needs to be transported to Earth. This work is largely carried out by a type of vessel known as Slow Boats
These vessel are not equipped jump drives, instead they spend months making the transit between Saturn and Earth in Real Space. Since once they have climbed out of Saturn’s gravity well they coast the rest of the distance, they are unmanned for the majority of their journey. It is only during the passage in and out of orbit that for safety and legal reason these vessels boarded by a pilot.
Slow boats fleet make up the majority of traffic within the solar system, operating in a steady stream, their passage is timed to create a continuous supply of fuel to Earth.
Interstellar fuel transports are by comparison much rarer. The majority of interstellar tankers are part of Battle Fleet’s logistical train. Those in civilian or government operation, serve mostly in the support of the colonies. Currently Earth has two colony worlds, Dryad and Landfall. A slow boat system is already in place for Dryad but in both cases tankers are used to support transports on route and bring in additional fuel where short term demand outstrips local transportation.
While the fuel source has changed, one fact that after fifty years remains the same is the fuel supply lines remain the lifeblood of civilization and society, as their security remains a primary concern for both militaries and governments.